Vanessa Winship

Studenica, Kosovo


Not on display

Vanessa Winship born 1960
Photograph, inkjet print on paper
Image: 360 × 548 mm
Purchased with funds provided by the Photography Acquisitions Committee 2019


This black and white photograph is one of several works in Tate’s collection by the British photographer Vanessa Winship. It comes from a series entitled Imagined States and Desires: A Balkan Journey 1999–2002, which was Winship’s first major series. The series exists in an edition of twelve Fine Art pigment prints, all the same size, and Tate’s prints are various numbers from the main edition (Tate P82415P82420). The photographs were shot in the area of southeastern Europe known as the Balkans which includes Albania and Kosovo. After the fall of Slobodan Milošević’s regime in Serbia in 2000, Winship moved to Belgrade for a year in 2001 and lived for more than a decade in the Balkans, Turkey and the Caucasus. Towards the end of the Yugoslav Wars (1991–2001), Winship began a series of trips to Albania. Under the iron fist of Enver Hoxha, Albania had been one of the most reclusive states in the Soviet orbit. After the end of communism in 1989, many Albanians then became victims of a giant government-backed Ponzi scheme, losing what little they had. In 1998, during one of Winship’s visits, war broke out between Serbia and NATO over the independence of Kosovo, a Serbian-controlled territory with a majority Albanian Muslim population. As several thousand Kosovar Albanians began to flee the violence, flooding across the border into Albania, Winship started to document the people and the landscape around her. She developed her future direction in this series, approaching the subject not as a photojournalist – a recorder of specific events – but as an artist working with a poetic sensibility and applying an oblique gaze to geopolitical realities.

In the Balkans, Winship wandered across a devastated landscape: a land waiting to be healed. In one scene witnessed in Kukës high in the mountains on the border with Kosovo, a group of refugees look beyond the frame of Winship’s camera, all focused in unison in the same direction (Kukës, Albania, Tate P82417). Tense, expectant, fearful, what they have just seen is left unexplained. In an improvised barber shop in a bleak refugee camp in Albania, a young boy is gazing intently in a small hand mirror, as if, Narcissus-like, he is enraptured by the most beautiful sight in the room (Shkoder, Albania, Tate P82416).

Her experience in the region led her to focus on the impact of history not just on the terrain but on human identity, becoming fascinated with the mark that history makes on people. She also realised that black and white photography, as an abstraction from real life, suited her purpose better than colour, because it encourages the viewer to move between real time and memory. Speaking in 2018, she explained: ‘This is the paradox of photography – it captures the now, which is immediately then of the past.’ (Quoted in Marigold Warner, ‘Time Folds for Vanessa Winship at Barbican Art Gallery’, British Journal of Photography, online, 12 June 2018,, accessed 24 August 2018.)

Much of Winship’s subsequent work has been made on the margins of the old Soviet bloc and, more recently, in parts of a United States in the throes of economic decline (see she dances on Jackson 2011–12, Tate P82445P82458). She has characterised her work as focusing ‘on the junction between chronicle and fiction, exploring ideas around concepts of borders, land, memory, desire, identity and history. I am interested in the telling of history, and in notions around periphery and edge. For me photography is a process of literacy, a journey of understanding.’ (Quoted in Georgia, Schoolchildren, 2011,, accessed 11 August 2018.)

Further reading
Vanessa Winship, Sweet Nothings, exhibition catalogue, Foto8, London 2008.
Vanessa Winship, exhibition catalogue, Fundación Mapfre, Madrid 2014.
Vanessa Winship, Vanessa Winship: And Time Folds, London 2018.

Kate Bush
August 2018

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